At a press conference held Monday as part of Virtuoso's 33rd annual Virtuoso Travel Week event in Las Vegas, Misty Belles, Virtuoso's vice president of global public relations, touted the travel sector's resilience and "forward momentum."
"When you consider where we were a year ago, there is absolutely progress," Belles told Virtuoso Travel Week attendees. "That's not to say that our agencies, advisors and partners haven't been impacted, because they absolutely have. They're all in various stages of recovery. But as a network, we did remain stable."
Belles cited Virtuoso data indicating that in January of this year, the consortium's bookings were down 82.2% on the same period in 2019. By June, however, that gap had closed substantially, with bookings down 45.6% versus 2019 levels.
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Although a preliminary measure of Virtuoso's July booking numbers reflected "slight impact" from uncertainty surrounding the Covid delta variant, Belles asserted that any delta-related pullback has been "minimal" thus far.
Bullish about cruise comeback
Broken down by category, hotels have led the recovery, with Virtuoso's hotel sales nearing normal 2019 levels by the second quarter of 2021, thanks to continued growth in closer-to-home, domestic bookings.
That said, Belles expressed bullishness around a cruise comeback in the coming year.
"It's cruise that has the great story going forward in 2022," said Belles. "Because when we look at where we were at, [for] 2019 leading into 2020, compared to where we are right now, leading into 2022, we're at 79% of where we were. So, we're not quite there but coming on very, very strong."
Improved advisor outlook
Advisor outlook has also improved materially, with a Virtuoso network survey conducted in July indicating that 51% of respondents reported that they're already confident about their business or expect to be confident about their business within the next six months, versus just 33% of respondents reporting similar confidence levels during a survey conducted this in January.
Additionally, 77% of respondents said in July that bookings have either increased or increased significantly in the latest quarter. By comparison, in January, only 32% of those surveyed said their bookings had increased or increased significantly for the most recent quarter.
Virtuoso keeps expanding
Meanwhile, Belles reported that the Virtuoso network has continued to expand, with the company onboarding 26 new agencies since January, while concurrently growing its preferred partner portfolio by 10%.
"The confidence level has absolutely come up," said Belles. "Since January, we're seeing more increases than decreases, and we're clearly seeing a recovery in certain markets, especially here in the U.S. We're seeing a very positive trend in that the majority of bookings are new bookings with full revenue, instead of rebookings. And again, that's a sign of this recovery, with cancellations and changes falling off. The indicators are that travel is making a comeback."
According to Virtuoso, this year's hybrid Travel Week conference is on track to bring together 1,500 in-person attendees, as well as 1,800 remote attendees, from Aug. 8 to 13.
In-person participants were required to be fully vaccinated in order to attend.